By Gillian Loomes
The organising of a conference takes time. It begins as a tiny seed of an idea, germinated in conversation and nurtured by passionate enthusiasm. That’s how it was for us – coffee and conversation about Disability, and Arts, and all the intersections: the opportunities, the barriers when those two worlds collide. Shared identity and experience as musicians in myriad forms, rubbing against disabled identity and disability politics – and a mutual desire to shake things up. We decided we wanted to bring people together, and to host a conference that focused on the intersections between music (as academic discipline, as industry, as career, as passion) and the politics of Disability Studies. It would be a vibrant space, a creative space – but it would also be a challenging and provocative space: A Call to Arms in beautiful polyphonic symphony.
And then the planning begins. Specifically, the funding applications begin. In filling out forms, and writing proposals for a conference, the idea once again grows in conversation. And it takes root in black and white – words on a page. It grows in its ‘realness’. But this is where the question arises: What are we going to call the event? How do we sum up all this excitement, this passion, this ‘Call to Arms’ in a name? “Music and Disability Studies Conference” just wasn’t doing it for us. This is when I (GL) began to think about (to ‘muse upon’, you might say…) my own disabled identity, and my engagement with disability politics. What did THAT mean to me? And how did it fit with what we are trying to say with our conference? And so I began to reflect on my ‘Crip’ identity, on language, on reclaiming language, and on the political work represented by, and embodied in, such (speech) acts of reclaiming language. And I started to realize that our aims for the conference are actually shaped by, embodied in, and seek to reproduce the work of disability politics, as captured in the word ‘Crip’ (noun – as identity, and verb – as provocation, as challenge.)
But what do we mean by ‘Crip’?
‘Crip’ is a word that commands attention. It troubles, it unsettles. It can catapult us back to an age when disability was something shameful, to be borne individually and hidden from the able gaze of wider society: to the age of The Guild of the Brave Poor Things, where “handicapped” was seen as a progressive choice. But in recent years, it has begun to launch us into new, unchartered terrain. Following in the tracks of other marginalized communities (Black people, and LGBT+ people are key examples), disabled people have grasped the nettle of ‘Crip’, and spun it around. They have put it to work in the most creative, artistic of ways – such as the U.S. symposium that set out to create a disabled perspective to the cultural world of comic books, and to the related event on ‘Comic Con’. Indeed, the organizers of ‘Cripping the Con 2017’ describe beautifully what is meant by ‘Crip’ and ‘Cripping’ when they say:
“Using the terms “Crip” and “Cripping” is one way of “taking back” language and power from the people who, and the institutions and systems that have used it historically (and, in some cases, presently), to harm and demean people with disabilities … Language, control and social power are thus asserted by people with disabilities and our allies, who have the right to speak for ourselves and act on our own behalf.”
In ‘Cripping the Con’, those who participated did not simply gather together to discuss, and to carve out a place for disability within the existing landscape of comic book culture. They did more than that. They disturbed that landscape. They troubled the status quo in order to create something new from the fusion of comic book culture with disabled culture. Not an awkward squeeze, but a powerful, radical shake. And this is what we seek to do with ‘Cripping the Muse’ – to explore new terrain where disability not only fits in with the Arts, but boldly claims its place in shaping and making art.
Such political aims find their academic expression in the development of new aspects of Disability Studies – notably, in ‘Crip Theory’. Crip Theorists, such as Robert McRuer (in his germinal text ‘Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability) seek to interrogate and challenge normative social expectations, and performances that construct and embody the ‘able’ body. As Alison Kafer (a Crip-feminist) puts it, the work of Crip Theory seeks to redefine disability in order to build a ‘politics of Crip futurity, an insistence on thinking these imagined futures – and hence, these lived presents – differently.’ (Kafer, 2013: 3).
In curating and hosting Cripping the Muse we align ourselves with the political and academic commitments of Crip identity and Crip theory. We seek to bring together musicians from across the disciplines, industries, and cultures of music in order to imagine what a ‘Crip futurity’ might look like across these disciplines, industries, and cultures. These are bold, exciting aims, and they are aims that I – a Crip-musician, am proud to pursue alongside my colleagues in organizing Cripping the Muse.
Kafer, A. (2013) “Feminist, Queer, Crip” Indiana: Indiana University Press